Why interview Troy Donahue anyway?
“Believe me, you won’t believe Toy when you see him,” the press agent tells me. “He’s a bearded hippie! And believe me he is fantastic in this picture. He plays Charles Manson! Actually we can’t call him Charles Manson because of the legal thing, but it’s the Charles Manson story. Troy is this sex and drug crazed Jesus-type cult leader of a hippie commune who kills a pregnant actress and her Hollywood friends. You see the parallel? This is going to be a very big picture. I have a feeling this is going to be bigger than ‘Love Story.’”
And if that’s not enough, the press agent offers another enticement. “Listen, we’ll take you to lunch with Troy at the Top of the Sixes. You’ll like the Top of the Sixes. They have steaks and seafood. Do you like steak?” The press agent sets a date for the Top of the Sixes and promises to send me Troy’s “bio.” He tells me I will recognize him, the agent, “because I wear wild shirts and wide ties. But I guarantee you won’t recognize Troy.”
From the “Biography of Troy Donahue” received special delivery the next day:
“Troy Donahue returns to the screen as Moon, the passion-possessed leader of a vengeful hippie cult…in this poignant, moving drama which is inspired by the awesome series of events surrounded the Sharon Tate murder case and other related wanton killings this decade.
Enclosed with the bio is a newspaper story headlined TROY DONAHUE NOW BEARDED HIPPIE. The story features before and after photos of Troy, showing him as sunny angelic Sandy Winfield II of Warner Brothers’ “Surfside 6” and then as sullen demonic “Moon.” A note from the press agent attached to the story states: “This Associated Press story on the ‘new’ Troy Donahue appeared not only in the Sunday New Jersey Bergen Record but in countless other major Sunday newspapers in the nation.”
Troy is dressed in white. White sneakers, white Levis, white t-shirt, white Levi jacket. A silver crucifix and some other trinkets hang from a chain around his neck.Troy is a large man and his white clothes look a little too small for him, as if he doesn’t want to admit he has put on weight. He looks like those one-time slim and healthy California surfers who grow older, grow paunchy — and maybe a little punchy too — and turn into bikers or dopers or both. There are gray hairs scattered through Troy’s blond beard, and tiny red crinkles of visible veins on his cheeks. Troy is 35.
I’ll never forget Troy’s first words to me, when he stepped over his motorcycle helmet to greet me at his table at the Top of the Sixes. This is a literal transcription: “Hey brother. Dig the scene. Dig the scene. Wow man. Dig the scene.”
If I had any doubts left that Troy was in fact a bearded hippie, he set them at rest when he twisted the conventional handshake I had offered into an interesting version of the Movement “power” grip, and concluded the greeting by saying, “Yeah. Dig the scene.” Just us hippies together.
Well, there were two others waiting at Troy’s table in addition to us hippies. There was the Press Agent, in a wild shirt and a wide tie, and Bob Roberts, the producer of “Sweet Savior,” Troy’s Charles Manson movie.
“Don’t sit next to them,” Troy told me. “Sit over here next to me so we can really rap.”
When I am seated and turn to Troy, I find we are looking into each other’s eyes. The heavy gaze continues in silence until Troy breaks it off, and nods slowly. “Yeah. Right,” he says with finality.
“I know that scene. I’ve been there. It’s these people man. It’s a thrill to cruise the Strip and pick up some groovy looking hippies and take them home and play with them. Play with them. You know what I mean. Games, dig it.”
We begin to talk about Charles Manson.“I knew the dude,” Troy tells me. “I used to play volleyball with him on the beach at L.A. years ago. He had short hair back then, but even then he was very big with the chicks.”
“What was his secret?” I asked.
“It was his cock,” says Troy.
Before I could ask Troy for more details the press agent interrupts. “Of course the film is not completely about Charles Manson. We have Troy there at the scene to commit the murder himself while Manson didn’t do it himself. We rented a whole mansion in Teaneck, New Jersey, for the murder scene. The script was written by a Pulitzer prize winner, although under a pseudonym. Troy’s performance is going to shock people. I think it’s an Oscar performance although the Academy would never have the guts to give it to him.”
Troy talks about his role: “It was a bad scene man,” says Troy to me. “It was real. You know, but it was dirty. I felt dirty man, evil. But it had to be done. But it’s real. Death is real. Wow. Down there just a few blocks away they killed, what’s his name. Joe Columbo. That’s heavy. It’s funny. Sitting here and talking when it’s so real out there. Last night I’m with this black girl in a bar. Beautiful girl, and I’m sitting next to her just wanting to get my cock into her, and she turns to me and says, ‘You know the guy who killed Columbo is black. You know what that means.’ That’s heavy man. That’s real.”
“I would make a prediction right now,” producer Bob Roberts declares in the silence that follows. “I would predict there would be more murders. This Manson thing will be just the beginning. This movie is not about an isolated incident, it’s about what’s to come. And there will be more murders.”
The press agent looks over at me nervously, then back at the producer: “Bob, maybe you shouldn’t predict murders. Maybe you should change that to tragedies.” He turns to me. “Say that Bob feels that this is a movie about a tragedy which may not, let’s see, which may not be the last of its kind.”
“But I think there will be murders too,” says Bob a little disconsolately. “I’m willing to be quoted as predicting murders.”
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” says the press agent.
“Shut up! You don’t know anything,” Troy tells the press agent.
“That’s nice,” the press agent says with some dignity. There is an embarrassed silence at the table.
“Oh hey man, I’m just kidding. Here.” Troy reaches for the press agent’s hand, takes it into a firm “power” grip, looks him in the eye. “Brothers. Right?” The press agent nods dubiously.
Troy gets back on the subject of Charles Manson and begins explaining how Manson either was or wasn’t just like Hitler. “So I said to David Frost, I said, ‘Did Hitler do it? I mean did he? He didn’t. Man, Hitler didn’t do it. You know what I mean?’ And Frost looks at me and says: ‘He didn’t do it?’ And I said, ‘No man, he didn’t do it, did he?’ It blew Frost’s mind. All he could say was ‘He didn’t do it?’”
Troy looks at me. “But the thing is he really did do it. Can you dig it? He did do it.”
“Do what?” I asked.
“I think it’s more than Hitler,” said the producer before Troy can respond. “It’s not just Hitler. It’s the beautiful people.”
“Right on,” says Troy softly.
“The Beautiful People,” repeats the producer. “I don’t want people to get the idea this is an anti-hippie movie, because it really portrays the degeneracy and depravity of the beautiful people as well as the hippies. That whole Hollywood scene.”
“That’s right man,” says Troy. “I know that scene. I’ve been there. It’s these people man. It’s a thrill to cruise the Strip and pick up some groovy looking hippies and take them home and play with them. Play with them. You know what I mean. Games, dig it. People playing with people. That’s what they were all into. I was there when it happened.”
“You were there?”
I wasn’t there in person but I was there. You dig it. I was there. We were all there.”
“I’ll tell you one thing,” says the press agent, breaking in on Troy’s reverie. “This movie is going to polarize. I mean that. It’s going to polarize this country. That why it’s going to be so big. I would not be surprised if it isn’t bigger than ‘Love Story’ and one reason will be because of this polarization.”
Troy is still there. “I was there. You were there. We were all there,” he tells us. “I was sitting just a few yards down in the canyon when it happened. I could feel it happen. It was like a warning.”
I asked Troy if it was hard on him personally trying to play Charles Manson on the screen.
“No man. I’m just an actor.”
“Wait till you see his performance. It’s an Oscar winner,” said the press agent.
But how had he been able to get into the Manson part? Had he done acid?
“I took acid man. I took acid and I met The Man. I met The Man. And The Man said cool it.”
“Cool it. That’s what he said. I was with these doctors, and … now you know some people take 250, 350 mikes and play around and think they did acid. But did acid. I was with these doctors in Miami and I was standing by this metal railing watching the ocean and all of a sudden there was a thunderstorm man, like the end of the world. And lightning, man. So I’m holding on and this lightning hits the railing, comes right along to me and right through me. I should have been fried, man. Then I knew. Cool it. That’s what the Man was saying. Cool it.”
“Troy’s still big with the women though,” the producer interjects. “I don’t know how he does it. Have you got that set up with the girl in the hotel, Troy, this afternoon? You do, don’t you? I don’t know how he keeps going.”
Troy points to his crotch and grins. “The day I stop going here is the day I stop going. Going to see (a black singer) tonight. Wow.”
The press agent takes out some glossy pictures. There is Troy in shoulder length hair, parted blond beard, and black leather jacket leaning familiarly on the shoulder of a stout pregnant woman.
“She plays the Sharon Tate type,” the press agent explains. “And the amazing thing is she was really pregnant during the shooting. Isn’t that something?”
He takes out another glossy and there’s Troy in a shot from one of his Warner Brothers-Connie Stevens movies, a blond wave in his neatly parted hair, wearing a neat sweater and sport-shirt. “And here’s Troy before. You could use these as before and after pictures.”
“I’m spontaneous. Spontaneous, man. I’m so spontaneous I could cry. Sometimes I go to movies and just cry.”
“Yeah, but that’s bullshit,” says Troy. “That ‘before and after’ thing is bullshit. I was always the way I am now. See that picture of me with my hands in my pockets, looking so clean cut? You know what I’ve got in my pocket. You know what?”
I shake my head no.
Troy gives me a sly look, puts two fingers up to his mouth, and takes an imaginary drag on an imaginary joint. “You know what I’m talking about now? That’s right,” he says with satisfaction.
Our conversation is interrupted by three elderly ladies who have come over from a nearby table to ask for Troy’s autograph.
“I can’t believe it. The women still recognize him everywhere,” the press agent says.
Troy flirts graciously with the ladies who say they want the autographs for their nieces and granddaughters. When they leave to return to their table, Troy turns to me. “Crazy. Aren’t they great. Wow. Look at those heavy legs.” He smacks his lips. “Wouldn’t you like to mow their lawns?”
“Troy, you have a 2.30 appointment at that hotel, don’t you? I don’t believe this guy and his women.”
Troy wants to finish explaining how there was never any before and after. “I was always like this, man. All I want in life is maybe three drinks and like half a joint” — he takes another drag from his imaginary joint — “and then I hop on my bike and I’m off. That’s the real Troy Donahue you know. It’s because I’m spontaneous. Spontaneous, man. I’m so spontaneous I could cry. Sometimes I go to movies and just cry. Listen, have you got any more questions? Anything else you want to know?”
“What about the crucifix you’re wearing around your neck,” I ask him. “How much does it mean to you?”
“Listen man, I’m not into any cults or anything. I don’t believe in cults. Look, it’s not just the crucifix. That’s for my Man, but I’ve also got this Hebrew letter here, it’s a Hebrew letter here, it’s a Hebrew symbol, I don’t know what it stands for but it’s good to have. Then I’ve got this little Buddha figure here and, dig this, he’s got one ear missing which is very heavy. You know what that means don’t you? Then this thing here, this is just a piece of junk to remind me of the junk in the world.”
Troy gets up to leave. He picks up his motorcycle helmet and takes out of it a shiny white package which had been stuffed inside. “You want to see junk. Look at this. Somebody up at the Warner Brothers promo office laid this on me.”
He hands me a package which turns out to be a white t-shirt with three bright red roses emblazoned on the front. Superimposed over the roses in large jolly letters is the word “JUNK.” Below that are the words “Dusty and Sweets McGee,” the title of Warner Brothers’ newly released junkie movie.
“You can have that if you want,” Troy tells me.
I thank Troy but decline.
“Well, I’m off on my cycle now man. Wish I had one of these” — he takes a final drag on his imaginary joint. “Listen, are you really gonna write this up? You really are. Wow. You know if you do, you know that before and after shit — it’s been done before man. It’s not me. I was always just like I am man.”
“Troy is a fantastic guy, isn’t he?” says the press agent after Troy leaves.
“Troy is a fantastic guy to work with,” says the producer. “I was amazed. He was on time for everything; he’s signed for two more pictures with me. In the next one he’s playing a Weatherman leader in a picture called The Weathermen. Then in ’72 there’s another big one called The Lucifer Cell. It’s about a Chinese Communist invasion of the U.S. that succeeds. Troy is an underground resistance fighter.”
“The whole thing’s going to be very big. This picure. Listen,” says the press agent, “one thing you might want to mention in your story is that the company that’s distributing this picture is a publicly owned company. It’s traded over the counter. That’s kind of interesting, you know, you might want to work that into the story when you mention that Trans-World Attractions Corporation is producing and distributing Troy’s movie. You know. That it’s publicly owned. Something like that. I’ll tell you its only selling for maybe a buck a share now, right, Bob? But when this picture is released …. Of course it wouldn’t be ethical for me to tell you to buy….”
“But I could tell him, couldn’t I?” chuckled the producer.
A young sweet-faced girl wearing a black robe and a large silver crucifix stops me on the sidewalk outside 666 Fifth Avenue (see Revelations 13:18 about that). In a spacey voice the girl asks if I would like to help the work of a group called the Process, the Church of the Final Judgment.* The girl hands me a slip of paper on which the address of the Church of the Final Judgment has been typed. The slip is decorated with the head of Jesus and the homed head of the devil. The girl explains: “We believe each of us has both Christ and Satan within us. We believe that we must acknowledge that Satan is in us. Then we can begin to love Satan the way Christ loves, and Satan will be transformed.”
The girl, who says she is an acolyte of the Church of the Final Judgment, points to a passage in a booklet explaining “the Process”: “Through Love Christ and Satan have destroyed their enmity and have come together for the End; Christ to Judge, Satan to Execute the Judgment.” The explanation of the Process continues later with an interesting universal law: “Anything we give, whether positive or negative, will be returned to us in full measure.”
I accept the pamphlet from the girl and buy a more detailed book about the Process from her. As she is digging around in her tote bag for change, I notice a familiar shiny white package sticking out. I ask her about it. “Oh, some guy came along a little while ago and gave it to me. I didn’t really want it, but he didn’t stop to ask whether I did or not.”
The girl takes it out. It is Troy’s “Junk” T-shirt. She is young enough and sweet-looking enough to have been one of the girls in my junior high school who mooned over Troy a decade ago.
“Did you know that was Troy Donahue who gave it to you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It was just this tall guy with a bike helmet who looked like he was in a hurry. Who is Troy Donahue? Look, would you like it? I really have no need for it.”
I have the “Junk” T-shirt now.
* Some writers would later try to connect the Process to the Manson cult, and serial killer David Berkowitz would later make the dubious uncorroborated claim that the Process was behind the “Son of Sam” killings.